pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Don’t Show Favoritism

Reading: James 2:1-10

Verse 1: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.”

Photo credit: Elena Mozhvili

In our passage from James there is a clear call to be aware of our tendency to judge and stereotype and to make distinctions based on appearances. In verse one we read, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” James’ audience came by this tendency naturally, as we do today. Society has always valued those with wealth and status and power. That is why so many people chase after these things. This preference for and to certain people was having a negative impact on the church. If allowed to persist it has damaging effects.

James points out the tendency to welcome the wealthy person, trying to find them a really good seat, a place of honor. He opposes how a poor person is received as they are asked to sit on the floor or to stand in back – places of dishonor. The world treats the wealthy and powerful real well, hoping to get a little something out of it for themselves. In this process we devalue the poorer person, clearly making them feel less than. In verse four James asks us, “have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” The answer is ‘yes we have.’ There is always a driving force that guides how we treat others. In the scenario here in James, those with wealth and power can help out a struggling church. We too easily dismiss the one who is shabbily dressed, letting them know that they don’t matter much to us.

Treating others according to how they look on the surface is the opposite of how Jesus treated people. It ran counter to the Mosaic Law as well. James is clear on the impact of making distinctions: “If you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” These are hard and challenging words. To truly live without favoritism or judging or stereotyping is difficult. It is a call to stop making distinctions, to love and see with the heart of Jesus. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, the world clearly favors those who have over those who don’t and those who are like us over those who are not. Help me to see as you see: without judgment, without prejudice, without hate. Help me to love all as you love all. Amen.


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Rooted in Love

Reading: Ephesians 3: 14-21

Verses 17-18: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love… grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”.

Photo credit: Emma Gossett

Chapter 3 of Ephesians opens with Paul declaring himself a “prisoner” of Jesus Christ for the sake of the Gentiles. Those he once saw as so far outside of God’s love have been brought near. Paul is now the primary missionary to the Gentiles. What an amazing turnaround! Our passage today is a prayer for the Ephesians. It begins with Paul on his knees.

Ephesus was a city much like the cities and towns that we live in. The culture of Paul’s day valued wealth and status and power. Life was centered around getting more and more. The world in which these early believers lived and the audience with whom they were sharing the good news was not much different from our own contexts. Paul first prays for the Holy Spirit’s power to fill them and to strengthen their inner being. Paul asks God to make them sure of who they are in Christ Jesus.

Paul then prays, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love… grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”. Perhaps thinking of the parable of the sower found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8, Paul prays for deep roots of faith. When trouble or persecution or the cares of the world rise up, Paul prays that they will remain rooted in the love of Jesus Christ. He prays for them to understand the vastness and limitless nature of God’s love. Knowing this, they will be filled with the “measure of the all the fullness of God”. They will be filled with his love. Being filled, they will then overflow into the world. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of love, fill me, fill me, fill me. Pour out your love upon me. Fill me so full that your love washes away all that keeps me from being fully yours. Amen.


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Go, Trust, Hear

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 3: “When I called, you answered me”.

Photo credit: Alex Woods

David begins Psalm 138 with a declaration of praise. He will praise God with all of his heart and will sing of God before the “gods”. Even in David’s day there were many gods – the false gods of the pagan people all around Israel as well as the gods of this world that the Israelites chased: power, wealth, recognition. To declare one’s allegiance to God in the face of all these other gods is an important statement to make. David goes on to identify God’s love and faithfulness as the focus of his praise. These characteristics of God drive his relationship with God and will drive ours as well.

In verse three David gives us an example of how he experiences these two characteristics. Here he writes, “When I called, you answered me”. When David turned to God in prayer, God was there, God responded. This too is driven by love and faithfulness – both in David’s prayer and in God’s connection with David. We too can experience this intimacy with God. We too can turn to God and enter into his presence. We too can receive answers from God.

In the remainder of verse three we see the result of this intimate connection with God: “you made me bold and stouthearted”. David’s faith grew, deepened, was strengthened. As David did, may we also go to God in prayer, trusting in God’s love and faithfulness, waiting upon his presence. May we have ears to listen and hearts to perceive God’s response.

Prayer: Loving and faithful God, I praise you this day! You are ever attentive, always present. Continue to strengthen and deepen my relationship with you and my walk of faith. Give me patience to trust into your love, to lean into your presence. Amen.


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Set Aside

Reading: Psalm 4

Verse 1: “Answer me when I call to you… Be merciful to me and hear my prayer”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

In Psalm 4 David cries out to God. He is direct and open and honest. He begins the Psalm pleading with God to answer when he calls, to hear his prayer, and to grant him mercy. There is a trust that David has in God. Over the course of his lifetime David has experienced God’s faithfulness and mercy, his grace and love. As we journey in faith with God, we experience this same building up of trust in God.

David is distressed by those in Israel who have turned from God. They are chasing after false gods. David calls them “delusions”. David could be writing these words today to the many people who chase after worldly things – power, acclaim, wealth, popularity. David asks, “How long”? How long will they chase after these delusions? None of these things last; none of them bring peace of heart and mind, none bring true joy or lasting contentment.

David reminds these lost souls, “Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself”. This is not just for today or even for next year. It is forever. God wants all people to love him more than these earthly charms. Yet some do not recognize the Lord of life, the giver of peace. As children of God, we have been set apart. Yes, the things of this world still draw us in, still call out to us. But the power of the Holy Spirit is greater, God’s love for us is stronger. In faith may we remember God’s righteousness and mercy, being strengthened for each day. Being strengthened may we live as a child of God each day, set apart for his purposes. As such, may we be in the world but not of it.

Prayer: Father God, strengthen me for the battles ahead. Be they big or small, walk with me. Guide me thoughts, words, and actions. May self be set aside to bring you all the glory. Amen.


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Fringes and Edges

Reading: Matthew 9: 9-13

Verse 11: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”?

Photo credit: Marten Newhall

Our passage today opens with Jesus calling another disciple as he walks along the road. The man he calls us named Matthew. He was sitting in his tax collector’s booth when Jesus said, “Follow me”. It’s hard to say what an equivalent calling would be today. Tax collectors were almost universally disliked and hated. They worked for the occupying force, the Romans, collecting taxes to pay for the enemy to stay in power. Most tax collectors gathered well above and beyond what the Romans required. Becoming rich was a side perk of this government job. Being wealthy was nice but the occupation limited one’s circle of friends. Matthew’s crowd would be limited to other tax collectors and others who took advantage of others. Money lenders, prostitutes, slave traders… would have been among the crowd at Matthew’s house as Jesus joined them for dinner.

Upon seeing the crowd that Jesus has chosen to become a part of, the Pharisees ask, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”? Why would Jesus call one of these to discipleship, to following him? Why would Jesus sit amongst this crowd of sinners? I suppose some people today think the same thing when they see their pastor emerging from the hymn sing at the local brewpub or when they see members of the outreach team exiting the local strip club. In response Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”. Jesus did not come to just sit around the temple or local synagogues chatting with the faithful about the scriptures. Yes, Jesus did this and this habit continues to be a very important part of our faith journey. But Jesus also spent the majority of his time doing ministry out in the world – among the tax collectors and sinners, among the hurting and broken, among the Gentiles and others who were marginalized by the religious establishment. These are the ones in need of a “doctor”. These are the ones in need of healing, wholeness, love, a sense of community.

Who are the tax collectors of your neighborhood or community? Who are those on the fringes and edges? How can you minister to these that Jesus surely would have?

Prayer: Lord God, make my heart and will more like yours. Guide my feet to those in need of your love and care. Bring me past the barriers and fears in my mind, trusting more fully in your guidance and direction. Amen.


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Eternal

Reading: 2nd Samuel 7: 1-11 and 16

Verse 16: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me”.

When I think about today’s passage, in my mind I see an old weathered home, just a skeleton of what once was. Scattered across the country side are farmstead homes and buildings long ago abandoned. They usually lean to one side. There are no shingles, paint, or window panes. These homes remind me of the things of this earth. They are temporary. David desires to build God a home. God does not need or want a home build of wood or stone. Yet God desires to build a home too.

The home that God builds does not consist of wood or stone or any other material found on the earth. All that is here will one day be no more. God builds a home that will outlast all the things of the earth. In verse eleven God says, “The Lord himself will establish a house for you”. Through Nathan, God said these words to David. Through faith, these words remain true for you and for me and for all who call on Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Through the lineage of David, God will build a home whose doors are open to all. In verse sixteen God explains: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me”. Forever. David’s house will include Joseph of Nazareth, the earthly father of Jesus, the Son of God. Through Jesus the family will grow. Faith in the Lord will move out beyond Israel and into all the world. Through the good news that is Jesus Christ, faith will go out to the ends of the earth. All are invited to become a part of God’s family, a part of his eternal home.

As I think more about that old tattered farmhouse, I think about that elderly man or woman, perhaps eighty or ninety years old. They too have been weathered by time; maybe they lean a bit to one side. Yet the faithful live day by day with an abiding trust in their Lord. When asked, they do not want to be remembered by the fancy car they drove or by the wealth or power that they accumulated. They want their family, friends, acquaintances to remember how much they loved, how they gave much more than they took, how others were blessed simply by being in their presence. They, above all else, want others to see what a life lived for Jesus Christ looks like. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, as I become more and more mature, seasoned – weathered – I desire more and more to be more and more like your Son. Guide me each of my days to be loving, kind, humble, generous, gracious. Use me day by day to reflect your Son out into the world. Amen.


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Like a Mighty River

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

In today’s reading Ezekiel turns his focus to those who are leading, to those who are in charge. The Babylonians were powerful. They exerted their might and took many Israelites into captivity. In exile, the Israelites lived in a society that favored the privileged and wealthy, that allowed greed to exploit the weak, that turned a blind eye to injustice. Those who were wealthy, greedy, unjust are the “fat sheep” that Ezekiel refers to. As one considers our nation today, Ezekiel could very well be writing in 2020.

The ways of greed and inequity and oppression are not the ways that God intends for us to live. God therefore pledges to judge between the fat and lean sheep. God sees how the wealthy and powerful “shove with flank and shoulder”, forcing their agendas, manipulating the weaker, the less powerful. God will intervene, God will put an end to the sins being committed against his children. In verse 22 we read, “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

Plunder is an interesting choice of words. It maybe feels like an old term, an outdated term. Yet it is very relevant today. A man in our community invested many years earning an advanced degree in college. He is a skilled professional in the medical field. The major corporation that he works for unilaterally cut all people in his profession to 30 hours a week. He, like his colleagues, now has no benefits. This corporation has plundered these people.

God promises to save his flock, to judge between the sheep. There is a promise to end greed, oppression, and injustice. To those living in exile, to those living in unjust systems today, these words speak hope. To the fat sheep, these words should be a warning, a call towards self-reflection. But only the sheep with ears to hear will be changed.

Just as God sent Ezekiel to the exiles in Babylon, we read that God will send David to the Israelites who are surrounded by enemies, who live daily under threat of assault. In time God will come in the flesh, bringing hope and salvation to the people oppressed by the Romans and their own religious leaders. Jesus charged his followers to do as he did: feed the hungry, tend to the sick and lonely and imprisoned, clothe the naked, unbind the captives, bring sight to the blind. It is no wonder many Jews thought Jesus the second coming of Ezekiel.

As we seek to do these things, to follow the example of Christ, we do so with the realization that they run counter to our culture, against the ways of greed and power, in defiance of the oppression and injustice that is too prevalent in our nation. May the Lord our God empower us as we seek to be light and love, peace and compassion, mercy and justice to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, give me feet to walk the narrow road, the hard path. Give me courage to stand for those who are weak, lean, powerful, voiceless. May your justice roll down like a mighty river. Amen.


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A Relationship with God

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-4 and 7-9

Verses 3 and 9: “You shall have no other gods before me… Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”.

In today’s and tomorrow’s readings we hear Moses speak, giving the Ten Commandments to the Israelites. They have been wandering in the wilderness and are ready to hear from God. As they draw nearer to the Promised Land, God begins to give them some rules to live by. Being dependant upon God not only for your meat, bread, and water but also for which direction to go has kept the people focused on God. Once they enter the Promised Land, settle down, and begin living, it will be easier to forget or neglect God. This is our pattern too. When life is good, we often forget our need for God. When we allow busyness a foothold, we neglect God. Times in the wilderness remind us of our need for God.

The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God. In general these four are about honoring our relationship with God. The first reminds us that God is God. Therefore, we shall have no other gods. Thus, God prohibits idols – things that take the place of God. Next is another prohibition: do not take God’s name in vain. The fourth calls upon us to keep the Sabbath holy, mirroring God’s actions in the creation narrative. For Jews and Christians, there is only one God. The creator and sustainer of the universe and all life is clearly the only God. There is one supreme being. God desires to be #1 in our lives. When our focus is on God, when he is leading us through life, when we recognize God as the giver of our water, food, resources, money… then God is #1 in our lives.

Our relationship with God falters or suffers when we allow idols or other “gods” (small ‘g’) to ascend to #1. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, it would be the labor of their hands and the allure of the cultures around them that would draw their focus away from God. When we get too caught up in work and wealth and in the world around us, we too lose focus. That is why keeping the Sabbath holy is so important. It reminds us of God. It breaks the pattern of work, work, work. It draws us away from the world. When we intentionally lay aside our labors and we turn all of our focus to keeping the holy day holy, we reconnect with God. In doing so we find rest and renewal for our souls and for our bodies. Each and every week, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, bless and keep me, lead and guide me. May each day of work be fruitful. May each Sabbath be holy. Teach me balance in my life. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Blessings

Reading: Psalm 112

Verse 1: “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands.”

Psalm 112 is a beautiful reminder of the great gain one finds from a faithful walk with the Lord. Verse one begins with “blessed is…” and the psalmist continues on by recounting all the ways that God can bless the faithful: children are blessed, good comes, and the heart is secure. A faithful walk can be one without fear, one without being shaken. Living faithfully can draw out ones generosity, graciousness, compassion, and sense of justice. Choosing to fear the Lord and to honor his ways leads to a blessed life.

Not all who live a faithful life will be wealthy or healthy or free from troubles. Blessings are not always monetary bounty. Many who live within a budget and do not have much beyond the basics feel very blessed and contented, living joyous lives. Blessings are not always living healthily until 94 years of age or more. The blessings come in being assured of God’s presence and love in and through the illness and disease and other physical trials of life. These things are part of life for almost everyone. God’s presence is the gift of blessing for the faithful amidst their trials and sufferings. Life will bring other times of trouble too – some self-inflicted, some by others doing. In the same way, the faithful can turn to God and can rely on God’s strength to get through these seasons as well.

As the Psalm draws to a close, we read, “his righteousness endures forever”. Living a faithful and righteous life here can bring many blessings, both here and in the kingdom to come. As we live out our faith in the here and now we also look forward to our heavenly home. May we walk each day faithfully, blessing others as we are blessed by God.

Prayer: Loving Father, life is truly better when lived in close relationship with you. Strengthen me in moments when I falter or am weak and lift me up. Encourage my daily walk through the power of your Holy Spirit. May all I do and say honor you. Amen.


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Never the Same

Reading: Luke 19: 1-10

Verse 5: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”.

Zacchaeus is like many we see coming to Jesus. He is not popular. He lives on the edge or outside of society. He has few friends. He is looked down upon by the religious order and by almost everyone else. This tax collector is like others who came to Jesus: the lepers, the prostitute, the adulterous woman, the blind, lame, mute, deaf, the possessed… Zacchaeus has chosen his lot in life – one would bid for the lucrative position of tax collector. He chose wealth over many other things and over many relationships. He is where he is in life by his own choices.

How like Zacchaeus we are! We might not be tax collectors but we do often choose things ahead of our faith. Every time we sin – no matter how big or small – we are choosing self over God. Each time we make something more important than God we are elevating self over God. The choice is not limited to wealth or possessions. We can pursue a host of other things more than we pursue our faith. We chase after status and titles, after accomplishments and success. We can work hard so that others notice us or so that we gain that recognition. Yes, we can struggle with keeping faith the top priority in our life.

Zacchaeus heard Jesus was in town and wanted to see him. Zacchaeus was not looking to be healed or to have an audience with Jesus. He was curious. For Zacchaeus, yes, friends and some acceptance would have been nice. But life was okay. Wealth can make life feel okay. So can titles and recognition, possessions and status. Zacchaeus runs ahead of the crowd and climbs a tree just so he can see Jesus pass by.

As Jesus gets to the place in the road adjacent to Zacchaeus’ tree, he stops, looks up at him, and says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”. The curious is captured by the curiosity. Life will never be the same for Zacchaeus. It was never the same for the lepers, the prostitute, … It was never the same for us. In this sense, we too were once like Zacchaeus. We were curious about Jesus and he eventually worked his way into our lives. Who do you know that is curious about or is searching for Jesus? Help them to know him today.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the words to speak today to turn hearts to you. Guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.